Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey..... ”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Stepping out of Situational Patterning 

This excerpt has been adapted from Tricycle’s online course, “Dependent Arising” with Christina Feldman, Akincano Weber, Stephen Batchelor, and John Peacock. Learn more about the course and enroll at learn.tricycle.org.

Christina Feldman: A perspective on dependent arising that we’ve all shared and is important to draw out is that we’re not talking about future births or another lifetime. We’re talking about what’s happening right now for us and how to get out of cycles of repetition. 

Think of times when you return to your family home as an adult for a holiday dinner, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. And you find yourself suddenly acting through the lens of being a child again and repeating the same patterns of reactivity that are so familiar to you. This is situational patterning, how our world has been shaped in certain ways historically and then how that world is repeated in the present. 

I’ve seen it while teaching at Gaia House, a center in the UK that I helped to found. It was an old convent—one of these very gray, English, huge buildings. I’ve seen students come in for retreats and they’re enthusiastic, willing, and sincere. And then they see the building and they’re thrown back into memories of boarding school. They find themselves acting in fearful, contracted ways again from the past being brought into the present, and almost reborn in the present. It’s not just the past being repeated, but also the sense of self shaped by those conditions in the past that’s being repeated. 

But we can step out of this. We can walk a different pathway if there’s sufficient awareness and understanding of what is actually happening.

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Best of the Haiku Challenge (May 2022)

The season words of haiku are more than just the names of things. Each is a complete universe of meaning wrapped in a syllable or two. In writing a haiku, the poet enters that “small cosmos” and learns to speak its truth. What is the meaning of a falling leaf? What does a soap bubble have to say? These are the kinds of questions we ask whenever we write a haiku.

The winning and honorable mention haiku for last month’s challenge addressed the most notable feature of a soap bubble—the fleeting, unstable beauty of its “little world.”

Marcia Burton captures the melancholy wonder of soap bubbles popping on a spring evening—each with its own sun.Nancy Winkler sees worlds being created and destroyed by the Hindu god Shiva in the image of a dancing, bubble-blowing child.Kelly Shaw pushes ecological satire to the limit with his vision of bubbles as “planets” with longer and shorter lives.

Congratulations to all! To read additional poems of merit from recent months, visit our Tricycle Haiku Challenge group on Facebook.

You can submit a haiku for the June challenge here.

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Tried and True Ground

Given the current state of our world, the theme of grounding in groundlessness seems both apt and urgent. All of us have found ourselves at some point in our lives or in our practice when we’ve had to face the unknown. It’s that point in which we realize that the ground we’ve trod on so far, though tried, is no longer true, no longer serving us, no longer the way we want to go. And so we stand at the edge of a cliff, toes curled over the rim, terrified to step forward but unwilling to turn back—stuck, it seems, between wanting to be safe and wanting to be free. We stand, heart in our throat, every fiber of our being simultaneously reaching and bracing. Because, although we know that what lies behind us will no longer give us the peace or the satisfaction that we’re looking for, we have no idea what lies ahead. We don’t know what’s at the bottom of the cliff. We don’t know if we actually have the courage to step forward, and if we do, whether we’ll survive the fall.

In zazen, this is the moment in which the self is beginning to slip away. A moment, short or long, where we’re somehow not there. But realizing the danger it’s in, the self freaks out and quickly moves to reinstate itself. Your body jerks, your mind sputters, and before you know it, you’re fully there and fully you, and swearing you’ll never let yourself get that close to the edge again.

In everyday life, this is the moment in which you realize your job, your relationship, your way of parenting, or your view of yourself or the world is no longer working. All the conflict, all the pleasure and pain, all the anger and justification, haven’t gotten you what you wanted—or if they did, what you wanted didn’t last, and now you’re tired of this neverending game. You’re tired of war. You’re tired of longing. You’re tired of hustling and of not feeling like you belong, no matter how hard you work. You vow to change, but you don’t know how. So here you are, at the edge of that cliff, desperate for something to show you that it’s okay to jump, it’s okay to take a chance, because everything you’ve relied on up to this point is no longer cutting it.

Let’s face it, this moment can be incredibly lonely. Maybe we look around and see that our friends are perfectly happy going about their lives. At least, they seem to be. Maybe our family wonders why we’re always so restless, always dissatisfied, always looking. We may start to wonder if there’s something wrong with us. Why can’t we just be happy? Our lives are pretty decent, all things considered. Why can’t we just be satisfied?

This moment is crucial. If we give in to doubt, we’ll talk ourselves away from the cliff’s edge with the reasoning that indeed, our lives are pretty good, so why make waves when there are none? Surely we’ve made more of this suffering bit, and if we just buckle down, we should be able to make our lives work as they are. From the perspective of the self, whose job is to endure at all costs, samsara isn’t so bad. Then again, there’s few things the self can’t talk itself into given enough incentive.

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A New Album by Tenzin Choegyal Fuses Tibetan Traditions with Genre-Transcending Sounds

Tenzin Choegyal, one of the world’s finest Tibetan musicians, says that as a child he always woke up to the sound of his mother chanting. It might start as early as four in the morning, while he was still dreaming. Throughout the day, he would remain immersed in her voice as she sang while doing chores. The singer and composer considers his mother a strong influence in his 20-plus-year music career, and he named his newest album, Yeshi Dolma in her honor. 

Choegyal has performed around the world, has opened for public talks by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and he has made nine studio albums. He has also partnered with world-renowned artists including Phillip Glass and Patti Smith, and in 2019, he released Songs from the Bardo, a musical interpretation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, with Jesse Paris Smith and Laurie Anderson. His music brings together the unmistakable traditions of Tibet with inventive, genre-transcending sounds that create a profoundly meditative and heart-opening experience for listeners. In addition to his soul-stirring voice that evokes the nomadic musical lineage of his ancestors, Choegyal’s instrumental repertoire includes the dranyen, a traditional Tibetan stringed instrument; a ling-phu, or Tibetan flute; singing bowls; a gong; and many experimental instruments, including rocks. 

His latest album is a collaboration between himself, his friend, composer and cellist Katherine Philip, and Camerata, Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra. I recently sat down with Choegyal to discuss his journey as a musician, the interconnection of dharma and music, the Tibetan refugee experience, and the inspiration for Yeshi Dolma.

Can you tell us about your early life and how you became interested in music? I was born in Tibet. In the early 1970s, the Cultural Revolution was happening in Tibet and many Tibetans were coming out. My parents came out through the Mustang region of Nepal when I was just a toddler. My parents were nomads and had nine kids. Five of them survived. My father passed away and my mother became a single mother with lots of kids. So she sent me to live at the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamsala, India. It was the story of being a refugee at the time, for Tibetans. All of your parents and relatives and friends were scattered around the globe. 

I would say that my closeness with the nomadic lineage of songs and sounds is from the imprint of hearing them as a child. Playing the flute is definitely my father’s influence. I don’t really remember his facial features, but I remember his flute playing quite well. Hearing him play definitely inspired me to learn more. My mother’s voice is also instilled in me. She was like many of the Tibetan elder generations who would wake up very early in the morning and just out of faith, start chanting. I always woke up hearing my mother’s chanting, around maybe four in the morning, while I was still in the dream state. She would also always sing songs while doing chores. Also being around the elder generations of Tibetans—Tibetans are so spontaneous at singing. But definitely [my interest in music] comes from the hearing empowerment of my parents. 

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The American Academy of Learned Societies Places Buddhist Scholars at Four Cultural Institutions Including Tricycle

The American Council of Learned Societies Names Inaugural Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Buddhism Public Scholars Awards

On Tuesday, the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) announced the recipients of a new initiative supported by the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation that places four early career scholars in professional positions with leading museums and publishers that focus on Buddhism. 

“ACLS has a long and successful history of championing early career scholars and publicly engaged humanities,” said ACLS President Joy Connolly in a press release. “Since 2020, we have approached this commitment with more urgency due to the damage the COVID-19 pandemic did to the job market, which disproportionately affected recent PhD recipients.” The goal of the program is to further understanding of Buddhist art and ideas in the world. Wisdom Publications will host Christopher Hiebert, PhD, from the University of Virginia. The National Museum of Asian Art at the Smithsonian Institution will host Hillary Langberg, PhD, from the University of Texas at Austin.The Detroit Institute of Arts will host Joseph Leach, PhD, from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. And Tricycle is excited to welcome Frederick Ranallo-Higgins, PhD, from the University of California, Los Angeles. Ranallo-Higgins studied under the mentorship of Dr. Robert Buswell, Jr., director of the UCLA Center for Buddhist Studies, and his dissertation explored some of the real-world implications and challenges of Buddhism and its institutions.

On Monday, ACLS also named the 20 recipients of the 2022 Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships, Early Career Research Fellowships, and Translation Grants in Buddhist Studies. These scholars join a group of 230 past recipients of the grants for their work in Buddhist studies. 

Despite hopes that the Taliban will protect ancient Buddhist city Mes Aynak to appease China, Foreign Policy published an article this week saying that the militant group continues to loot and destroy archaeological treasures from and assaulting the Hazara people who live in Bamiyan province, where the Taliban destroyed two giant Buddha statues 20 years ago.

In celebration of Saga Dawa—the most significant holiday period of the year for Tibetan Buddhists—Bhutanese lama Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche will deliver a free public teaching. The talk will be held on June 14–15 under the theme “Buddha Dharma: An Indian Heritage.” 

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